The Assembler Description

-... The ASxxxx Assemblers

Assembly Pass 1

   During  pass  1, ASxxxx opens all source files and performs a
rudimenatry assembly of each source statement.  During this pro-
cess  all symbol tables are built, program sections defined, and
number of bytes for each assembled source line is estimated.  

   At the end of pass 1 all undefined symbols may be made global
(external) using the ASxxxx switch -g, otherwise undefined  sym-
bols will be flagged as errors during succeeding passes.

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Assembly Pass 2

   During  pass  2  the ASxxxx assembler resolves forward refer-
ences and determines the number  of  bytes  for  each  assembled
line.   The  number  of bytes used by a particular assembler in-
struction may depend upon the addressing mode, whether  the  in-
struction allows multiple forms based upon the relative distance
to the addressed location, or other factors.   Pass  2  resolves
these cases and determines the address of all symbols.

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Assembly Pass 3

   Pass 3 by the assembler generates the listing file, the relo-
catable output file, and the symbol tables.  Also during pass  3
the errors will be reported.  

   The  relocatable object file is an ascii file containing sym-
bol references and definitions, program  area  definitions,  and
the  relocatable assembled code, the linker ASLINK will use this
information to generate an absolute load file  (Intel,  Motorola
or Tandy CoCo Disk Basic formats).  

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-... Source Program Format

Statement Format

   A source program is composed of assembly-language statements.
Each statement must be completed on one line.  A line  may  con-
tain a maximum of 128 characters, longer lines are truncated and

   An  ASxxxx  assembler  statement  may  have  as  many as four
fields.  These fields are identified by their order  within  the
statement  and/or  by separating characters between fields.  The
general format of the ASxxxx statement is:  

      [label:]  Operator        Operand         [;Comment(s)] 

   The  label and comment fields are optional.  The operator and
operand fields are interdependent.  The operator field may be an
assembler  directive or an assembly mnemonic.  The operand field
may be optional or required as defined in  the  context  of  the

   ASxxxx  interprets  and  processes source statements one at a
time.  Each statement causes a particular operation to  be  per-

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Label Field  -

   A  label is a user-defined symbol which is assigned the value
of the current location counter and entered into  the  user  de-
fined  symbol  table.   The  current location counter is used by
ASxxxx to assign memory addresses to the source  program  state-
ments as they are encountered during the assembly process.  Thus
a label is a means  of  symbolically  referring  to  a  specific

   When  a program section is absolute, the value of the current
location counter is absolute;  its value references an  absolute
memory  address.   Similarly, when a program section is relocat-
able, the value of the current location counter is  relocatable.
A  relocation  bias  calculated at link time is added to the ap-
parent value of the current location counter  to  establish  its
effective  absolute  address  at  execution time.  (The user can
also force the linker to relocate sections defined as  absolute.
This may be required under special circumstances.) 

   If  present,  a  label  must  be  the first field in a source
statement and must be terminated by a colon (:).   For  example,
if  the  value  of  the  current  location  counter  is absolute
01F0(H), the statement:  

      abcd:     nop 

assigns  the  value  01F0(H) to the label abcd.  If the location
counter value were relocatable, the final value of abcd would be
01F0(H)+K, where K represents the relocation bias of the program
section, as calculated by the linker at link time.  

   More  than  one label may appear within a single label field.
Each label so specified is assigned the same address value.  For
example,  if  the  value  of  the  current  location  counter is
1FF0(H), the multiple labels in the following statement are each
assigned the value 1FF0(H):  

      abcd:     aq:     $abc:   nop 

   Multiple labels may also appear on successive lines.  For ex-
ample, the statements 

      $abc:     nop 

likewise  cause  the  same value to be assigned to all three la-

   A  double  colon  (::)  defines the label as a global symbol.
For example, the statement 

      abcd::    nop 

establishes the label abcd as a global symbol.  The distinguish-
ing attribute of a global symbol is that it  can  be  referenced
from  within an object module other than the module in which the
symbol is defined.  References to this label  in  other  modules
are  resolved when the modules are linked as a composite execut-
able image.  

The legal characters for defining labels are:  

        A through Z 
        a through z 
        0 through 9 
        . (Period) 
        $ (Dollar sign) 
        _ (underscore) 

   A  label  may  be  any  length,  however  only  the  first 79
characters are significant and, therefore must be  unique  among
all   labels  in  the  source  program  (not  necessarily  among
separately compiled modules).   An  error  code(s)  (<m> or <p>)
will  be  generated  in  the  assembly  listing  if the first 79
characters in two or more labels are the same.  The <m> code  is
caused  by  the  redeclaration of the symbol or its reference by
another statement.  The <p> code is generated because  the  sym-
bols location is changing on each pass through the source file. 

   The  label  must  not  start with the characters 0-9, as this
designates a reusable symbol with special  attributes  described
in a later section.  

   The  label  must  not  start  with  the  sequence $$, as this
represents the temporary radix 16 for constants.  

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Operator Field  -

   The  operator field specifies the action to be performed.  It
may consist of an instruction mnemonic (op code) or an assembler

   When  the  operator is an instruction mnemonic, a machine in-
struction is generated and the assembler evaluates the addresses
of  the operands which follow.  When the operator is a directive
ASxxxx performs certain control actions or processing operations
during assembly of the source program.  

   Leading  and  trailing  spaces  or tabs in the operator field
have no significance;  such characters serve  only  to  separate
the operator field from the preceeding and following fields.  

   An operator is terminated by a space, tab or end of line.  

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Operand Field  -

   When  the  operator is an instruction mnemonic (op code), the
operand  field  contains  program  variables  that  are  to   be
evaluated/manipulated by the operator.  

   Operands  may  be  expressions  or  symbols, depending on the
operator.  Multiple expressions used in the operand  fields  may
be  separated  by a comma.  An operand should be preceeded by an
operator field;  if it is not, the statement will give an  error
(<q> or <o>).   All operands following instruction mnemonics are
treated as expressions.  

   The operand field is terminated by a semicolon when the field
is followed  by  a  comment.   For  example,  in  the  following

      label:    lda     abcd,x          ;Comment field 

the  tab  between lda and abcd terminates the operator field and
defines the beginning of the operand field;  a  comma  separates
the operands abcd and x;  and a semicolon terminates the operand
field and defines the beginning of the comment field.   When  no
comment  field  follows,  the operand field is terminated by the
end of the source line.  

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Comment Field  -

   The comment field begins with a semicolon and extends through
the end of the line.  This field is optional and may contain any
7-bit ascii character except null.  

   Comments  do not affect assembly processing or program execu-

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-... Symbols and Expressions

   This  section  describes the generic components of the ASxxxx
assemblers:  the character set, the conventions observed in con-
structing  symbols,  and  the use of numbers, operators, and ex-

Character Set 

   The following characters are legal in ASxxxx source programs: 

     1.  The  letters  A  through Z.  Both upper- and lower-case
         letters are acceptable.  The  assemblers,  by  default,
         are  case  sensitive,  i.e.   ABCD and abcd are not the
         same symbols.  (The assemblers can be made case  insen-
         sitive by using the -z command line option.) 

     2.  The digits 0 through 9 

     3.  The  characters . (period), $ (dollar sign), and _ (un-

     4.  The special characters listed in Tables 1 through 6.  

   Tables  1  through  6  describe  the various ASxxxx label and
field terminators, assignment operators, operand separators, as-
sembly, unary, binary, and radix operators.  

Table 1         Label Terminators and Assignment Operators 

        :   Colon               Label terminator.  

        ::  Double colon        Label  Terminator;   defines the
                                label as a global label.  

        =   Equal sign          Direct assignment operator.  

        ==  Double equal        Direct assignment operator;  
            sign                defines  the  symbol as a global

        =:  Local equal         Direct assignment operator;  de-
                                fines the symbol as a local sym-


Table 2         Field Terminators and Operand Separators 

            Tab                 Item or field terminator.  

            Space               Item or field terminator.  

        ,   Comma               Operand field separator.  

        ;   Semicolon           Comment field indicator.  


Table 3         Assembler Operators 

        #   Number sign         Immediate expression indicator. 

        .   Period              Current location counter.  

        (   Left parenthesis    Expression delimiter.  

        )   Right parenthesis   Expression delimeter.  


Table 4         Unary Operators 

        <   Left bracket        <FEDC   Produces  the lower byte
                                        value of the expression.

        >   Right bracket       >FEDC   Produces  the upper byte
                                        value of the expression.

        +   Plus sign           +A      Positive value of A 

        -   Minus sign          -A      Produces   the  negative
                                        (2's complement) of A.  

        ~   Tilde               ~A      Produces the 1's comple-
                                        ment of A.  

        '   Single quote        'D      Produces  the  value  of
                                        the character D.  

        "   Double quote        "AB     Produces the double byte
                                        value for AB.  

        \   Backslash           '\n     Unix style characters 
                                        \b, \f, \n, \r, \t 
                             or '\001   or octal byte values.  


Table 5         Binary Operators 

        <<  Double          0800 << 4   Produces the 4 bit 
            Left bracket                left-shifted   value  of
                                        0800.  (8000) 

        >>  Double          0800 >> 4   Produces the 4 bit 
            Right bracket               right-shifted  value  of
                                        0800.  (0080) 

        +   Plus sign       A + B       Arithmetic      Addition

        -   Minus sign      A - B       Arithmetic   Subtraction

        *   Asterisk        A * B       Arithmetic   Multiplica-
                                        tion operator.

        /   Slash           A / B       Arithmetic      Division

        &   Ampersand       A & B       Logical AND operator.  

        |   Bar             A | B       Logical OR operator.  

        %   Percent sign    A % B       Modulus operator.  

        ^   Up arrow or     A ^ B       EXCLUSIVE OR operator.  


Table 6         Temporary Radix Operators 

        $%,   0b, 0B            Binary radix operator.  

        $&,   0o, 0O, 0q, 0Q    Octal radix operator.  

        $#,   0d, 0D            Decimal radix operator.  

        $$,   0h, 0H, 0x, 0X    Hexidecimal radix operator.  

        Potential  ambiguities arising from the use of 0b and 0d
        as temporary radix operators may be circumvented by pre-
        ceding  all  non-prefixed  hexidecimal  numbers with 00.
        Leading 0's are required in any  case  where  the  first
        hexidecimal  digit is abcdef as the assembler will treat
        the letter sequence as a label.  


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User-Defined Symbols 

   User-defined  symbols are those symbols that are equated to a
specific value through a direct assignment statement  or  appear
as  labels.  These symbols are added to the User Symbol Table as
they are encountered during assembly.  

The following rules govern the creation of user-defined symbols: 

     1.  Symbols  can  be  composed  of alphanumeric characters,
         dollar signs ($),  periods  (.),  and  underscores  (_)

     2.  The  first  character  of a symbol must not be a number
         (except in the case of local symbols).  

     3.  The  first  79  characters of a  symbol must be unique.
         A  symbol  can be  written  with  more  than  79  legal
         characters, but the 80th  and subsequent characters are

     4.  Spaces and Tabs must not be embedded within a symbol.  

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Reusable Symbols 

   Reusable  symbols are specially formatted symbols used as la-
bels within a block of coding that has been delimited as a reus-
able symbol block.  Reusable symbols are of the form n$, where n
is a decimal integer from 0 to 65535,  inclusive.   Examples  of
reusable symbols are:  


   The range of a reusable symbol block consists of those state-
ments between two normally constructed  symbolic  labels.   Note
that a statement of the form:  


is a direct assignment statement but does not create a label and
thus does not delimit the range of a reusable symbol block.  

   Note  that  the  range  of a reusable symbol block may extend
across program areas.  

   Reusable symbols provide a convenient means of generating la-
bels for branch instructions and other  such  references  within
reusable symbol blocks.  Using reusable symbols reduces the pos-
sibility of symbols with multiple definitions appearing within a
user  program.   In  addition,  the use of reusable symbols dif-
ferentiates entry-point labels from other labels, since reusable
labels cannot be referenced from outside their respective symbol
blocks.  Thus, reusable symbols of the same name can  appear  in
other  symbol blocks without conflict.  Reusable symbols require
less symbol table space  than  normal  symbols.   Their  use  is

   The  use  of  the  same reusable symbol within a symbol block
will generate one or both of the <m> or <p> errors.  

Example of reusable symbols:  

        a:      ldx     #atable ;get table address
                lda     #0d48   ;table length
        1$:     clr     ,x+     ;clear
                bne     1$
        b:      ldx     #btable ;get table address
                lda     #0d48   ;table length
        1$:     clr     ,x+     ;clear
                bne     1$

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Current Location Counter 

   The  period  (.) is the symbol for the current location coun-
ter.  When used in the operand  field  of  an  instruction,  the
period   represents  the  address  of  the  first  byte  of  the

        AS:     ldx     #.      ;The period (.) refers to
                                ;the address of the ldx

   When  used  in  the  operand field of an ASxxxx directive, it
represents the address of the current byte or word:  

        QK = 0

        .word   0xFFFE,.+4,QK   ;The operand .+4 in the .word
                                ;directive represents a value
                                ;stored in the second of the
                                ;three words during assembly.

   If  we  assume  the  current  value of the program counter is
0H0200, then during assembly, ASxxxx  reserves  three  words  of
storage  starting  at  location 0H0200.  The first value, a hex-
idecimal constant FFFE, will be stored at location 0H0200.   The
second  value  represented  by  .+4  will  be stored at location
0H0202, its value will be 0H0206 ( = 0H0202  +  4).   The  third
value  defined  by  the  symbol  QK  will  be placed at location

   At the beginning of each assembly pass, ASxxxx resets the lo-
cation counter.  Normally, consecutive memory locations are  as-
signed  to  each  byte  of  object code generated.  However, the
value of the location counter can be changed  through  a  direct
assignment statement of the following form:  

      . = . + expression 

   The  new  location  counter can only be specified relative to
the current location counter.  Neglecting to specify the current
program  counter  along with the expression on the right side of
the assignment operator will generate the <.> error.   (Absolute
program areas may use the .org directive to specify the absolute
location of the current program counter.) 

The following coding illustrates the use of the current location

        .area   CODE1   (ABS)   ;program area CODE1
                                ;is ABSOLUTE

        .org    0H100           ;set location to
                                ;0H100 absolute

num1:   ldx     #.+0H10         ;The label num1 has
                                ;the value 0H100.
                                ;X is loaded with
                                ;0H100 + 0H10

        .org    0H130           ;location counter
                                ;set to 0H130

num2:   ldy     #.              ;The label num2 has
                                ;the value 0H130.
                                ;Y is loaded with
                                ;value 0H130.

        .area   CODE2   (REL)   ;program area CODE2
                                ;is RELOCATABLE

        . = . + 0H20            ;Set location counter
                                ;to relocatable 0H20 of
                                ;the program section.

num3:   .word   0               ;The label num3 has
                                ;the value
                                ;of relocatable 0H20.

        . = . + 0H40            ;will reserve 0H40
                                ;bytes of storage as will
        .blkb   0H40            ;or
        .blkw   0H20

   The  .blkb  and .blkw directives are the preferred methods of
allocating space.  

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   ASxxxx  assumes that all numbers in the source program are to
be interpreted in decimal radix unless otherwise specified.  The
.radix  directive  may  be used to specify the default as octal,
decimal, or hexidecimal.  Individual numbers can  be  designated
as  binary, octal, decimal, or hexidecimal through the temporary
radix prefixes shown in table 6.  

   Negative  numbers  must be preceeded by a minus sign;  ASxxxx
translates such numbers into two's  complement  form.   Positive
numbers may (but need not) be preceeded by a plus sign.  

   Numbers are always considered to be absolute values, therefor
they are never relocatable.  

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   A  term is a component of an expression and may be one of the

     1.  A number.  

     2.  A symbol:  
         1.  A  period (.) specified in an expression causes the
             current location counter to be used.  
         2.  A User-defined symbol.  
         3.  An undefined symbol is assigned a value of zero and
             inserted in the User-Defined symbol table as an un-
             defined symbol.  

     3.  A single quote followed by a single ascii character, or
         a double quote followed by two ascii characters.  

     4.  An  expression enclosed in parenthesis.  Any expression
         so enclosed is evaluated and reduced to a  single  term
         before  the remainder of the expression in which it ap-
         pears is evaluated.  Parenthesis, for example,  may  be
         used  to  alter the left-to-right evaluation of expres-
         sions, (as in A*B+C versus A*(B+C)), or to apply a  un-
         ary operator to an entire expression (as in -(A+B)).  

     5.  A unary operator followed by a symbol or number.  

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   Expressions  are  combinations  of  terms  joined together by
binary operators.  Expressions reduce to a value.   The  evalua-
tion  of  an expression includes the determination of its attri-
butes.  A resultant expression value may be one of  three  types
(as  described  later  in this section):  relocatable, absolute,
and external.  

Expressions are evaluate with an operand hierarchy as follows:  

        *       /       %       multiplication,
                                division, and
                                modulus first.

        +       -               addition and
                                subtraction second.

        <<      >>              left shift and
                                right shift third.

        ^                       exclusive or fourth.

        &                       logical and fifth.

        |                       logical or last

        except that unary operators take precedence over binary

   A  missing  or  illegal  operator  terminates  the expression
analysis, causing error codes <o> and/or  <q>  to  be  generated
depending upon the context of the expression itself.  

   At assembly time the value of an external (global) expression
is equal to the value of the absolute part of  that  expression.
For  example,  the expression external+4, where 'external' is an
external symbol, has the value of 4.  This expression,  however,
when  evaluated  at link time takes on the resolved value of the
symbol 'external', plus 4.  

   Expressions,  when  evaluated  by  ASxxxx,  are  one of three
types:  relocatable, absolute, or external.  The following  dis-
tinctions are important:  

     1.  An  expression is relocatable if its value is fixed re-
         lative to the base address of the program area in which
         it appears;  it will have an offset value added at link
         time.  Terms that contain labels defined in relocatable
         program  areas  will  have  a relocatable value;  simi-
         larly, a period (.)  in  a  relocatable  program  area,
         representing  the value of the current program location
         counter, will also have a relocatable value.  

     2.  An  expression  is  absolute if its value is fixed.  An
         expression whose terms are numbers and ascii characters
         will  reduce  to  an absolute value.  A relocatable ex-
         pression or term minus a relocatable term,  where  both
         elements  being  evaluated  belong  to the same program
         area, is an absolute expression.  This is because every
         term  in  a  program area has the same relocation bias.
         When one term is subtracted from the other the  reloca-
         tion bias is zero.  

     3.  An  expression is external (or global) if it contains a
         single global reference (plus or minus an absolute  ex-
         pression  value) that is not defined within the current
         program.  Thus, an external  expression  is  only  par-
         tially  defined following assembly and must be resolved
         at link time.  

=> Section Index

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Last Updated: January 2019